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Serene, Patinaed Fantasy

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Memoir, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's the story? on September 29, 2011 at 11:41 am
Apartment buildings lining the south side of E...

East 57th Street between First and Sutton (via Wikipedia)

Accustomed to living out of a suitcase, I pendulumed back and forth between Manhattan where Susan was wrapping up a degree in interior design following a decade-long career in video production, and Westport, New York, where both of our parents owned homes and where we’d met a couple of years prior.

Susan had recently refinished a one bedroom apartment in The Galleria, and she was itching to sell it and start a new project. I was intrigued by the prospect of collaborating on a project and plugging my recent Paris experience into a tired but dignified New York apartment, but the Adirondacks were pulling me. After almost half a lifetime living in cities, I yearned to return to the rhythms and pleasures of rural life.

My idealized notion of a country house had its roots in a small farm that my parents had bought in Washington County while still living in New York City in the 1970s. Initially a getaway for my recently married parents trying to balance life and careers in New York City and later, albeit briefly, a full time residence, The Farm underpins my love for countryside and provides my earliest childhood memories.

The perfect place, I explained to Bruce, the friend and realtor who shuttled me from property to property, would be a small, simple farmhouse in the middle of fields with a sturdy barn and some acreage, maybe a stream or a pond or access to a river. Barns, in particular, pulled me. Secluded places with good light and views, forgotten places with stories still vaguely audible if you slowed down long enough to hear the voices. No loud traffic. An old overgrown orchard, perhaps. Asparagus and rhubarb gone feral near the barn. Stone walls, lots of stone walls and maybe an old stone foundation from a building long ago abandoned, the cellar hole full to bursting with day lilies. A couple of old chimneys in the farmhouse with fireplaces. A simple but spacious kitchen. A bedroom with plenty of windows. A room to read and write and collage the walls with notes, lists, photos, drawings and scraps. Someplace I could tinker at myself, gradually restoring the walls and plaster and roof. Timeworn wide plank floorboards of varying widths that I would sand by hand to avoid erasing the footpaths and dings and cupping from a burst pipe years before.

Although I’d painted the picture often enough, my budget and unwillingness to abandon the serene, patinaed fantasy resulted in a few false starts but mostly a very clear idea of what I was not interested in buying. On the upside, I came around and helped Susan select and renovate a coop in a 1926 McKim, Mead and White prewar located on 57th Street just off Sutton Place. An elegant apartment in a handsome building. Great bones, view and sunlight enhanced with a top-to-bottom environmentally responsible, non-toxic renovation. A success!

Though there were occasional fireworks when our aesthetics and convictions clashed, we enjoyed working together and decided to look for a North Country property that would suit both of our interests…

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Ed Pais visits Rosslyn Boathouse

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story? on June 13, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Edward Pais was a classmate of mine at Deerfield Academy from 1986 to 1990, and he now practices architecture in Burlington, Vermont. Despite being out of touch for more than two decades we recently reconnected via Facebook. Ed joined the Rosslyn Redux Facebook page and he’s offered ongoing feedback about our boathouse during the Lake Champlain flooding. Recently he offered to come over and take a look. Needless to say, I eagerly accepted his offer.

We started out with a delicious lunch at Essex Provisions overlooking the still flooded marinas, then headed back to Rosslyn to take a look at the boathouse. Ed’s reaction was encouraging, and despite pushing him into engineering territory a couple of times, I mostly listened and took mental notes. He reminded me that he’s an architect and not an engineer, but repeatedly expressed his confidence in the work of Engineering Ventures in Burlington. Paul Hobbs who handled most of the structural engineering for the boathouse renovation repeatedly impressed with his keen mind, so Ed’s confidence was not misplaced. That said, I do intend to follow up with Hobbs and/or Jeffords Steel to ascertain whether or not the beams which support the suspended pier were fabricated out of COR-TEN or a similar weather resistant steel.

Ed’s recommendation to quickly and aggressively treat the mold situation was highlighted in a follow-up message after his visit. He suggested that we should remove the baseboards to inspect for mold. He linked me to helpful information “Cleaning Mold on Wood” that confirms that we’ve been remediating the post-flood mold situation appropriately.

The molds seen on lumber are largely a collection of fungal spores on the surface of the wood. Wet wiping and scrubbing the lumber will remove the mold. But simply wiping the wood can release spores into the surrounding air. A better approach is to gently spray or wet down the mold prior to removal.

There are a number of products on the market, ranging from common bleach to commercial mildewcides, which are promoted for cleaning mold from wood. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests using a mild detergent and water for most mold clean up. The EPA recommends wet vacuuming the area, wiping or scrubbing the mold with detergent and water and, after drying, vacuuming with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum.

Common bleach and water can be used for cleaning mold. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using a solution of 10 parts water to one part bleach to clean mold from surfaces. (Western Wood Products Association)

Huge thanks, Ed, for taking the time to coach me through the latest challenge! I really appreciate it.

After De’s departure my parents joined us for dinner. They’ve just returned to the Adirondacks from Chicago for the summer, so grilling and dining al fresco seemed like the perfect way to launch their summer. While showing my mother the recovering boathouse, I asked if she remembered Ed Pais from Deerfield. She did! She recounted a story that I’d never known. My brother, two years younger than I, had come to Deerfield for his admissions interview. Although he already knew his way around because he had visited me frequently, he decided to take the admissions office campus tour anyway. His tour guide was Ed Pais! When we got back to the house I asked my father if he remembered Ed Pais, and he immediately told me the same story! Ed, must have made quite an impression…

Postprandial Soak

In Memoir, What's the story? on June 2, 2011 at 12:07 pm
Postprandial Soak

Postprandial Soak

After dinner Susan opted for a postprandial soak. Quiet. Languid. Sybaritic. Tasha curled up beside the bathtub, sighed and fell asleep. A breeze carried the faint smell of pine trees through the open window. A whippoorwill called in the distance.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could live here?” Susan said.

“Why couldn’t we?” I asked, vaguely aware that my response might abbreviate the placid mood we were enjoying.

“Really?” Susan sat up abruptly. “I mean, of course we could, but we can’t just leave our friends behind. And the apartment?”

“Our friends would visit. And the apartment? Well, I don’t know. We’d have to figure that out.” We only recently had found and renovated the co-op on East 57th Street, our first home together. Located on the twelfth floor of an understated pre-war with a southern exposure, tons of sunlight, a working fireplace and beautiful hardwood floors, we knew we were incredibly fortunate. The neighbors and staff were friendly, and the neighborhood offered excellent restaurants, grocers, wine shops and even a knowledgeable and well stocked fromagerie.

“We can’t just sell the apartment. I mean we’ve barely lived there. And besides…”

“You want to work in green design, right?” I asked. “Why not get a job in Vermont? They’re all about green over there, aren’t they?”

“How did you know I was thinking about my career?”

“I didn’t know. I guessed.”

“I know I haven’t exactly gotten around to starting my design career yet,” Susan said and went on to remind me that soon – very, very soon – she anticipated a high profile job with a world renowned firm, designing hotels and proving that commercial interior design could be environmentally friendly, healthy and affordable.

“Sounds good,” I said softly, definitively and tried to sink back into dreamy limbo. Susan was quiet. Tasha ran in her sleep, thumping against the side of the tub.

“I need to spend a few years with a big firm first, for the experience. Then, maybe…”

“I’m just saying, if you’re serious about green design, Vermont might be as good a place as any to start your career. And besides, you’d actually be living a green lifestyle in the Adirondacks, right?”

“But what about you?”

“What about me? I’d be living a green lifestyle in the Adirondacks too. I love it here. I’d be thrilled to live here for a few years.” Peripatetic by nature, I enjoyed relocating every three to four years. Having grown up in the Adirondacks, mostly in the Champlain Valley, I had long yearned to reconnect, not just for vacation or a weekend.

“Really? But what about your career?”

“Which one? Teaching? Ecommerce? Renovating real estate? Writing? Susan, my career is adventure!” I said melodramatically. “And right now my adventure is the Margaux Project and ShipStore,” referring to two websites I was currently working on. “I can do that anywhere. And, frankly, if we we’re up here I might find more time to write. This’d be the perfect place to finish my novel.”

“And my screen play.”

“And your screen play.”

Hickory Hill and Rosslyn

In Artifacts, Daily Munge, Historic Essex, History & Heritage, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 19, 2011 at 7:00 am
The Ross Mansion, Essex, NY

The Ross Mansion, Essex, NY

I recently happened on this antique postcard of the Ross Mansion (aka Hickory Hill) which was built by the parents of W.D. Ross, the original owner of Rosslyn in the early 1820s. It still presides handsomely at the intersection of Elm Street and Church Street. I’m still sorting out the Ross family tree, intricately woven into the history of Essex, New York, and I’ll do my best to paint a clear picture as it emerges. For now, a couple of interesting references include:

History of the Town of Essex

Henry H. Ross (Wikipedia)

Honorable Henry H. Ross (Lancet Portrait Gallery)

Ross, Henry Howard (Biographical Directory of the Unites States Congress)

The interesting connection between Rosslyn and Hickory Hill is illuminated in Living Places: Essex Village Historic District.

“Hickory Hill” on Elm Street, and “Rosslyn” on the Lake Shore Road represent the residences of the wealthy merchants and lawyers who dominated Essex in the early days of its prosperity. Two-and-a-half-story brick structures whose design combines Georgian and Federal elements, both “Hickory Hill” and “Rosslyn” were built before 1830. The building of “Hickory Hill” (1822) built by Henry Harmon Ross for his bride, was taken from a five-bay design in Salem, New York. It displays great grace and lightness in its Palladian window, Neo-classic portico, and elegant cornices. Its setting in its own spacious grounds on the ridge which overlooks the village and the lake adds much to its beauty. “Rosslyn”, the William D. Ross house, originally constructed as a three-bay side hall dwelling, was expanded (1835-40) into five bays. Presently restored to its appearance in 1840, it commands a superb view of the lake and the Green Mountains in Vermont.

Another genealogical reference appears in Ancestry.com:

DANIEL ROSS: born February 23, 1764, Duchess County, NY; son of Daniel Ross (c 1740- c July 22, 1795) and Jerusa Howard; married Elizabeth Gilliland June 1784; one of the original settlers of Essex, NY on lands given to his wife by her father William Gilliland; had five children- Elizabeth, William Daniel, Henry Howard, Edward D., and Sara Jane; divorced Elizabeth c July 1815; Captain of Militia, Justice of the Peace, merchant, first Essex County Judge, and most prominent citizen; died at the home of his son Henry, Hickory Hill, Essex, NY March 10, 1831 at 67.

ELIZABETH GILLILAND ROSS EVERTSON: born 1764 in New York City; first child of William Gilliland (c1734-1796) and Elizabeth Phagan (c1740-1772); married Daniel Ross June 1785; had five children noted above; divorced c July 1815; married John J. Evertson by April 1, 1823; Evertson died by 1829; after Daniel’s death in 1831, she returned to her son Henry’s home, Hickory Hill, Essex, NY and died there August 3, 1847 at 83.

I will be adding Ross family references that I only have in print over the coming months. For now, here is an interesting if somewhat garbled snapshot of William Daniel Ross from Caroline Halstead Barton Royce as recorded in Bessboro: a history of Westport, Essex Co., N.Y. (Note: corrections are mine and possibly erroneous.)

William Daniel Ross dealt in lumber, iron and ship-building in Essex ; his wife was a sister of John Gould, Aid on Gen. Wright’s stafi; and his brother, Henry H. Boss, (afterward Gen. Ross,) was adjutant of the 87th at the battle of Plattsburgh.

If you can point me toward accurate history, genealogy, etc. for the Ross family of Essex, New York, please contact me. I would be much indebted to you. Thank you in advance.

Lingering Longer at Rock Harbor

In Champlain Valley, Lake Champlain, Memoir, What's the story? on May 18, 2011 at 5:32 pm
Rock Harbor view of Lake Champlain and Vermont shoreline

Rock Harbor view of Lake Champlain and Vermont shoreline

Back at Rock Harbor I packed the car while Susan prepared tuna melts. The temperature had warmed to the mid seventies, and a light breeze was blowing off the lake. We ate lunch on the deck, one last indulgence before locking up and heading back to Manhattan.

Perched a hundred feet above the lake, the deck offered a stunning panorama of Lake Champlain’s mid-section, known as the narrows. At just over a mile across, the narrows are the wasp’s waist of the 125 mile long lake that at its broadest spans 14 miles across. Across the field of sparkling topaz Vermont farmland extended to the Green Mountains. The Basin Harbor Club’s whitewashed cottages winked through heavy foliage along the shoreline. Several sailboats glided north. A motorboat buzzed lazily, weaving in and out of the coves along the New York shoreline.

I remembered the summer five years ago when Susan and I first explored these same coves together – waterskiing, drifting, skinny dipping – enjoying a whimsical summer fling before heading back to separate lives and responsibilities on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

“I was thinking,” Susan interrupted my reverie. “I don’t really have to be back in the city until noon tomorrow…”

I smiled. We both knew that she really meant, Do you want to stay another night and drive home tomorrow? Though not habitually subtle, Susan had a tendency to suggest rather than request. So, an offhand, “It’s getting late, we really should feed Tasha,” actually translated into, Can you please feed Tasha dinner? Or, “It would be nice to have a fire in the fireplace,” meant, Would you build a fire?

“Great! Let’s stay.”

“Really?” Susan sounded surprised.

“Sure, it’s a perfect day for tennis.”

My work was portable, so Monday mornings rolled out more or less the same whether we were upstate or downstate. Up early, take Tasha out, feed Tasha, feed myself, fire up my laptop and get to work. In Rock Harbor I could let Tasha out the front door in my bathrobe and then let her back in five or ten minutes later when she barked at the door. In Manhattan, I got dressed, chatted with the doormen, walked Tasha around the block on a leash, chatted with the doormen again and then scarfed down a banana or some cereal at my desk in front of my computer. Breakfast at 430 East 57th Street and Camp Wabetsu might have tasted the same, but the view from the kitchen window in Rock Harbor – this same IMAX movie we were experiencing right now – tipped the scale. Often Tasha and I were accompanied by a bald eagle sitting in the dead pine tree 25 feet away, waiting to plunge down and grab his own breakfast. Or a fox patrolling for mice. Or a herd of white tail deer browsing saplings and tender spring shoots.

“You won’t be anxious if you can’t work tomorrow morning?”

Translation: You won’t be annoyed if I sleep in and we get a late start? Now we were getting to the crux of it.

“No problem. I’m okay with missing a morning’s work while we drive down in exchange for some tennis this afternoon and another relaxing night here. But let’s make sure we get up early and leave on time, okay? I don’t want to miss a whole day’s work because we got a late start.”

This was a familiar conversation. We always craved more time at Rock Harbor and always found it hard to leave. The Champlain Valley effect. It kicked in each time we drove up, right after passing the last Lake George exit on Route 87. It felt like the first few deep breaths after a good visit to the chiropractor. Maybe it was the clean air or the spectacular views. Or the absence of traffic. Or the anticipation of a slower rhythm.

We agreed to postpone our departure, and I unpacked the car while Susan cleaned up from lunch. A couple of phone calls and a change of clothes later we headed up to the tennis court to burn off the tuna melts and Doritos.

Rosslyn for Sale

In Adirondacks, Boathouse, Historic Essex, House, Lake Champlain, Memoir, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 16, 2011 at 11:16 am
Rosslyn for sale, November 2004

Rosslyn for sale (photo credit Jason McNulty)

Susan and I were driving back to Rock Harbor after visiting Rosslyn, an early 19th century home in Essex, New York, which our realtor had just shown us for the second time in several months.

It was spring. At least a dozen sailboats speckled Whallons Bay as we wound south along the edge of Lake Champlain. Small white caps, light wind, bluebird skies above. Two fishing boats trawled between the beach and Split Rock where a glimpse of Vermont was visible within the cleft.

We veered away from the lake and up Couchey Hill toward one of the most picturesque views of in the Champlain Valley. Hurricane, Giant, Dix and the Jay Range were silhouetted against cloud specked blue skies to the east. An undulating patchwork quilt of hayfields and tree lines stretched to blue green foothills clumped against the Adirondack Mountains.

Half an hour can vanish in a single breath while watching a sunny day expire here. Even at midday the view is an open-ended invitation to linger.

But with minds and mouths racing, we did not even slow down on our way back to Rock Harbor. We were sorting engagements, worrying over deadlines and synchronizing schedules for the week ahead. After a quick lunch, we would drive back to Manhattan. Although the trip could be as quick as five hours, Sunday afternoons were typically slower with increased traffic around Albany and returning weekenders adding to the congestion.

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